However, the chasm between the woman she was expected to be and the woman she actually was created a familiar echo in me, as I too grew up in a conservative religion where gender boundaries were strictly defined. Particularly poignant was Feldman’s description of modesty and of holding the woman responsible for the thoughts and sins of men. “Every time a man catches a glimpse of any part of your body that the Torah says should be covered, he is sinning. But worse, you have caused him to sin. It is you who will bear the responsibility of his sin on Judgment Day” (36). A very similar ideology exists in Mormonism; I was deeply saddened that my former mission president, Tad Callister, recently said this:
The dress of a woman has a powerful impact upon the minds and passions of men. If it is too low or too high or too tight, it may prompt improper thoughts, even in the mind of a young man who is striving to be pure. . . .Women particularly can dress modestly and in the process contribute to their own self respect and to the moral purity of men. In the end, most women get the type of man they dress for.
—Elder Tad Callister of the Presidency of the Seventy, “The Lord’s Standard of Morality,” March 2014 Ensign, 45–49.
I admire the courage of these women to speak against the abuses of their time and culture. If we are too afraid to blow the whistle on harmful thinking and behavior, no changes can be made to prevent others from experiencing similar oppressive and anxiety-driven lifestyles.
Feldman, Deborah. Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012.